Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Are the funnies still more saddening than funny...?

Over the summer, a copy of the funnies page from Bradenton, Florida’s Bradenton Herald found its way into my apartment via visiting relatives, and I took the opportunity to check in on the funnies after a few years’ absence from what used to be a daily ritual.

In November, I found a day-old copy of the Columbus Dispatch, Ohio’s worst newspaper, in the break room of my day job, and thought I’d see how their funnies pages looked these days.

Here’s how their funnies pages physically look:

They’re actually a funny-page-and-a-half, with the half of the first page devoted to a pair of crossword puzzles and a couple of other puzzle-y things—a jumble, a word search, and something called a “challenger” and the “daily cryptoquotes.”

There are 31 strips altogether, five one-panel cartoons, and the rest actual strip-strips.

Here’s what they have on their funny-page-and-a-half these days…


The Dispatch is one of the many, many papers that is rerunning old Peanuts strips. I like the strip as much as the next guy—actually, I probably like it a lot more than the next guy, depending on who I’m standing next to at any given time—but I don’t really like the idea of running old strips in the paper like this forever. There’s no greater sign of the imminent death of the newspaper comic strip than the fact that decades-old work from dead cartoonists continues to be judged more relevant and vibrant than anything living cartoonists are creating today (at least by newspaper editors and readers).

This is a strip about how Pig-Pen is really dirty.


Here’s another strip from a creator who’s died. Rather than running old strips by creator Johnny Hart, however, B.C. has become a legacy strip. It’s currently drawn by Mason Mastroianni, Hart’s grandson.

He seems to be doing an adequate job of filling in for his late grandfather, as only his signature in the lower right corner of the last panel tipped me off that this wasn’t a repeat. It’s a three-panel strip set in the ant “skool,” in which the little student ant says he fails to see the resemblance between George Washington and the Washington Monument.

It wasn’t very funny.

Hagar The Horrible

Oddly, the last time I took a look at a funnies page like this, the Hagar strip was a joke about the title character struggling with his diet (You know, a typical Viking concern). And in this strip, he’s also struggling with his diet!

“How’s your diet going, Hagar?” asks Lucky Eddie, and Helga answers from off panel, “It just went…”

She finishes her statement in the next panel, which shows a pleased Hagar tucking in to a huge turkey leg, spittle flying in all directions. He’s sitting alone at a table, while a sad looking Helga stands above what looks like a huge bowl of steaming potatoes at the end of the table.

Why is she so sad looking? Is it because she’s apparently prepared Hagar’s feast for him—she’s wearing an apron and has a wooden spoon in her hand—and thus facilitated her husband’s destructive lifestyle?

I don’t know, but it is certainly a pretty sad thought for the funnies page.

The last time I read the funnies, Hagar was one of the few highlights, but this time the gag is no more amusing than, say, your average Hi & Lois. Speaking of which…

Hi & Lois

Ditto is on a chair in front of the cookie jar, eating a chocolate sandwich cookie of the Oreo-like type. Hi sister scolds him, telling him that mom said he can’t have any until after dinner.

“I’ll deal with that later.”

In the second and final panel, Dot tells on him: “Ditto is running up a cookie deficit!” Lois, in the foreground in the act of cooking dinner, has a shocked expression, her eyes wide like saucers, her cheeks flushed, and motion lines off to the side of her head indicating some kind of wobbling.

She looks as if Dot had just said, “Mom, what’s ‘a product of incest’ mean?” rather than just hearing her daughter apply some random phrase she heard on the news to cookies.

The strip bears Chance Browne’s signature, but the Dispatch credits Brian Walker, Greg Walker and Chance Browne. Do they all work on every strip (surely three people didn’t come up with this one lame strip, did they?), or do they take turns? Or perhaps they all have their names in the credits as part of a deal to share the blame for these things…?


This is a three-panel, mostly silent strip, if you don’t count the “Z” in the bubble above Marvin’s head, and his “WAH!” in panel two.

So here’s the joke: In panel one, he’s sleepwalking into his dad’s room. In panel two, he cries, and his dad wakes up, with a “!” in a bubble above his head. In panel three, the father is changing Marvin’s diaper, and he’s sleeping again.

Ha ha ha! Babies cry when they need changed, and they often need changed in the middle of the night! Right when you’d like to be asleep, not changing diapers! It’s funny, because it’s true.

Wait, it’s not funny at all. But it is true. Not a joke, just a statement of fact. Like, a drawing of a statement of fact. These could just be cartoonier-than-usual illustrations in a chapter in a parenting book.

Pearls Before Swine

This strip, by Stephan Pastis, is new to the Dispatch. Or at least relatively new. It wasn’t there the last time I read the paper. Which, admittedly, was at least three years ago. I’ve never read it before, although I did recently read a New York Times article about the creator.

This particular strip is captioned “Rat As Corporate Counsel,” and features three panels of a guy in a suit and tie asking a rat in a tie at a desk for some legal advice about something. It reads exactly like a Dilbert strip, although Pastis’ art is more detailed and fluid.


I like Jim Borgman’s art in general, although this is a less than bravura strip by him, and the gag is more verbal than visual. Jeremy has a big project due tomorrow and he hasn’t even started yet. That’s…that’s the whole joke really. His mom is upside down clinging to a wall like Spider-Man in the last panel, and the dad appears to say “The boy driving you up the wall again, honey?”

I guess it’s kind of amusing that the father calls his son “the boy,” and Jerry Scott and Borgman do have Jeremy add more fuel to the fire by asking, “By the way, do we have any poster board?”

But like Marvin, this basically amounts to a simple dry observation about the behavior of kids. With a lame-ass visual pun tacked on.

Stone Soup

Here’s a strip I’m not very familiar with, and I don’t much see any reason to familiarize myself with it.

There are four panels, each featuring two little girls drawn from the shins up in a background-less white void. The smaller of the two girls is chocking, the older one panics for a few panels and then gives her the Heimlich, successfully ejecting whatever was obstructing her throat.

And that’s the whole strip. By this example, I’m not sure if this is supposed to be a funny strip or a dramatic one; it’s drawn in a funny strip style, but there isn’t really anything funny about this particular installment.


Calling attention to how Dilbert-like the above installment of Pearls was, this one is also three panels, and is laid out with Dilbert at a desk in profile, staring at the exact same type of computer as Rat was in the above strip.

Dilbert thinks to himself that he wants to be productive, but the Internet is calling to him. And it does, out loud: “Hey, buddy. I’ve got pictures of gadgets.”

Dilbert’s ready to get sucked in, and the Internet knows Dilbert is its bitch. Another rather sad statement on human weakness and addiction along the lines of Hagar, but Adams gets points for making the Internet somewhat sarcastic and cruel. (“Cool ones?” Dilbert asks at the mention of gadgets, and the Internet responds, “Sure, let’s pretend that matters.”)

This is the funniest strip of the lot so far.

Tina’s Groove

Here’s another short, two-panel strip, formatted as your standard set-up, punchline joke.

In the first panel, Tina is at the head of a line before two others, and says, “It looks like the economic meltdown is about to hurt us regular folks” with no punctuation of any kind at the end of her sentence. (Wait, “about?” And hey, Tina, last I knew, was a waitress at a diner. Hasn’t she always been hurting economically?).

“...This is the first time I’ve seen the teller’s panic button on the other side of the counter…” she says in the last panel, and we see a little button marked “emergency.”

So I guess if a customer feels the bank is robbing them, they can call the police to…do…something…?

This comic strip is by a cartoonist named Rina Piccolo. That is an awesome name. It is, in fact, the best name on the entire one and a half pages of funnies, of either creators or characters.

Just below this strip, which is at the bottom of the page, is big, bold font reading “JUDGE PARKER and CATHY can be found on Page F4 in the Dispatch classifieds.” So I guess they didn’t drop those strips, they just shoved them back into the classifieds, where only the unemployed and/or the most dedicated Judge Parker and Cathy fans will find them.


Okay, this is the funniest thing on the funny pages:

Ha ha ha! When did the seventh and final Harry Potter come out, exactly? Was it July of 2007? So, almost a year and a half before this cartoon ran? And look, here’s good old Ziggy, noticing that there seems to be a lot of money in the Harry Potter books.

Six Chix

This installment of the one-panel cartoon shared by six female cartoonists. In this one, by Anne Gibbons, there are two naked ladies holding barrels around them to cover their shame, and the first one says to the other one, “I guess sleeping through history class wasn’t such a great idea.”

See, these are college girls, and they apparently fell asleep during history class, so their classmates stole all of their clothes. But, because their classmates aren’t completely heartless, they left them two barrels with which to cover themselves.

Family Circus

This one is over my head, as I don’t know anything about music. Something about quarter notes only costing 25-cents.


“The obedience school will give Marmaduke an honorary degree if he wont’ attend any more classes.”

Is Marmaduke in repeats now? Because I could swear I’ve seen that gag a few dozen times before. Maybe it’s just because there’s only like two different Marmaduke jokes, one involving digging holes and the other how disobedient he is…?

Moderately Confused

This one’s new to me too, and if I never read another one that’s totally fine with me. There’s a painter painting a still life, and a woman comes up behind him and says “Nice detail on the product placement,” despite the fact that there doesn’t seem to be any product in the ordinary bowl of fruit he’s painting. Maybe there’s a bottle of Coke off-panel or something?


A lame three-panel gag, noteworthy only for the last panel:

Frank & Ernest

The title characters are taxi drivers, and the big one—is that Frank?— says to the smaller one, “Everybody I drive to the airport seems to lose their fear of flying.” His taxi is all beat up, as if he were in many accidents. See, he’s such a bad driver that after riding with him, flying in a plane doesn’t seem so scary.

Funky Winkerbean

It’s been a while since I’ve read this strip; has there been another generational jump into the future? Because the coach character looks about 20 years older than the last time I saw him.

Anyway, this particular strip has nothing to do with cancer. It’s a one-panel strip, and in it the now-elderly looking coach is addressing six young women wearing basketball gear, all of whom have remarkably realistically drawn faces, and stutters, “Okay, listen up, girls…er, women…er…”

And then one of the girls says, “Ladies,” and the coach says, “Thank you!”

I like Batiuk’s lettering.

Sherman’s Lagoon

It’s always bugged me that the turtle character, Fillmore, doesn’t appear to be a sea turtle, but can breathe and talk underwater. Even though, whatever kind of turtle he is, he’d still need to breathe air. I’m not sure about the crab. It’s been a long time since freshman biology. In any case, while Jim Toomey’s a great character designer and pretty good artist, I can never get past the fact that his characters all seem amphibious to just enjoy the strip. (This particular one is even more complicated, as it involves a radio station, that broadcasts underwater…? To a radio on the surface? And there’s a telephone involved?


This wasn’t as lame as I expected, as it deals with the Liz/Jon romance. He still seems loser-ish, and Garfield is still excited about food, but this was a remarkably character-based strip.

Sally Forth

Sally bakes croissants while some lady in an ugly vest and hoop earrings pours herself a glass of wine she drains in the time it takes Sally to ask “What?” They talk about men. There’s a joke in there somewhere, but I didn’t really get it.

One Big Happy

I’d prefer not to talk about this strip, I dislike it so.


I actually hate this strip. When I used to have a subscription to the Dispatch, back when I was young and foolish and had just moved to Columbus and was looking in its classifieds every day for a job, I used to read every strip except Agnes, I hate it so much.

For Better Or For Worse

Hey look, the Patterson children, who have somehow magically reverted to childhood, have just got a new puppy.

Aw, look at what a cute little puppy he is...

And it will be really sad when he does, too.


This is Chip Dunham’s strip that takes place on a boat of some kind. Maybe a pirate shipt? It’s been a really long time since I’ve read it. In this strip, a four-panel one, two guys try to break in to the safe of the protagonists, while mice use Morse code to foil the robbery.

Some of these are sometimes pretty amusing, but I’ve never been able to develop any affection for Dunham’s art, with is rather minimal.

Beetle Bailey

A two-panel strip by Mort, Greg and Brian Walker finds Sarge yelling at a reclining Beetle, “I told you to cut the grass!” And Beetle repiles, “It doesn’t do any good to cut it, it keeps growing back. The Asian dude appears in the second panel to ask Sarge, “You’re not going to clobber him?” and Sarge replies, “It doesn’t do any good. He just keeps goofing off.”

It’s funny (?) because he says what Beetle says.

The Middletons

This two-panel strip features two of the characters in close-up in the first panel, talking about how nice the weather is for running, and the second panel zooms out to reveal they’re actually sitting in lawn chairs, while their dogs run around chasing each other.

Baby Blues

The older sister makes fun of the younger brother for still using a pacifier. It’s not funny. Like, at all.

Jump Start

The little boy in school who plays doctor all the time—I think his name is actually Doctor Appleby—has another little boy up on a counter and has his knee-hitting hammer cocked, saying “I’m going to whack you in the knee with a rubber hammer.”

The boy playing patient protests, noting that he’s got a broken nose, so Doctor Appleby doesn’t need to check his reflexes.

In the last panel, Appleby regards the hammer with a blank-eyed stare, and thinks to himself, “This thing tests reflexes? Learn somethin’ new every day!”

I thought that was kind of funny.


Individual Doonesbury strips tend to be less funny than a run of them taken as a whole. I haven’t been reading it for quite some time now, and now that I think of it, I wonder if I was really missing out all year, as this was a pretty exciting year in American politics (obviously). In this one, the title character’s daughter interviews her grandmother on her cell phone. There’s some gentle character humor in here that’s competently done, if not exactly the sort of joke that would make one guffaw. As part of a larger, longer scene, it will probably read just fine.

Get Fuzzy

Darby Conley’s character designs really kind of freak me out. The dog and cat characters in this strip are just so ugly-looking. They’re well-drawn, I just kind of hate the way they look. The writing is pretty sharp though. This particular installment is pretty funny, if I’m reading it correctly (and I may not be, as it seems to be part of a story arc involving the cat founding his own country within the house he shares with his master and fellow pet, the bland-eyed, pot belly-dragging dog goblin.


LurkerWithout said...

Sally Forth is how Francesco Marciuliano pays the rent. His webcomic, Medium-Large is pretty reliably funny. Also often very wrong. But still funny...

Phillyradiogeek said...

For Better or For Worse rebooted a few months ago. The original continuity ended with the wedding of Elizabeth, the middle child. It's now starting from scratch.

Blondie was always hot!

Ziggy is one of the few reliably funny strips left.

Jump Start isn't the most hilarious strip out there, but I'm partial to it as the creator lives and works in the Philadelphia area.

Reprints or not, comics pages without Peanuts just shouldn't exist.

SallyP said...

Well...I have teenagers, so I like Zits. And Stephen Pastis lives in the next town over from mine, so I like Soup-to-Nuts too.

But if you want REAL humor, you HAVE to read Mary Worth. It's HI-larious!

Ryan Roe said...

I'm not sure when exactly I realized that most comic strips are terrible and unfunny, but it was a sad day. On the rare occasions when I read them now, the only ones that tend to make me smile are Get Fuzzy, Pearls Before Swine, and Pickles.

LurkerWithout said...

And Stephen Pastis lives in the next town over from mine, so I like Soup-to-Nuts too.

Pastis does Pearls Before Swine I thought...

Anonymous said...

You should check out Comics Curmudgeon sometime. That brother hates on comic strips full time.

SallyP said...

Pearls before Swine! I MEANT to say Pearls before Swine!


Bella's owner said...

His webcomic, Medium-Large is pretty reliably funny. Also often very wrong. But still funny...

Hey, that's not bad. Thanks for the tip; I have never, ever heard of that before.

Jump Start isn't the most hilarious strip out there, but I'm partial to it as the creator lives and works in the Philadelphia area.

I really like the art. There are a lot of strips that are completely lame, but I still appreciate how well-drawn they are. I don't remember ever totally loving Jump Start, but I always appreciated how well drawn it was.

But if you want REAL humor, you HAVE to read Mary Worth.

The Dispatch is Mary Worth-less! They used to have several of those "dramatic" strips, like Apartment 3-G and Mark Trail but I couldn't find 'em on the page...maybe they're buried in Classifieds like poor Judge Parker...

You should check out Comics Curmudgeon sometime. That brother hates on comic strips full time.

Oh wow, thanks for the link! I've been digging his assault on political cartoons at Wonkette, but I had no idea this site even existed. Now if you'll excuse me, it looks like I have some archives to read...

KentL said...

I've been enjoying Basic Instructions lately (http://content.uclick.com/content/basic.html).

I'm a huge fan of Get Fuzzy.

Pearls Before Swine is sometimes funny.

Dilbert is good.

I was a big fan of Garfield as a kid. Now I'm a big fan of Garfield Minus Garfield (http://garfieldminusgarfield.net/)